I was hired to fix the Bolivar Commercial. I was a brash 24-year-old managing editor brought in to shake up a very bad small daily newspaper in Cleveland, Miss. I made some enemies in the building, but I fixed that newspaper, at least for the time.
Nobody in the newspaper was happy to have an outsider come in and change what they had been doing for years. The head of the composing department hated me, because he had been accustomed to telling editors that the things they wanted couldn’t be done.
I called his bluff and used his own equipment to show his people how to do what I wanted. He seethed with anger, because he didn’t want things to change. But he knew he had lost when I shot a film positive and stripped it into a page negative and double-burned a plate to produce the reversed caption I wanted on my first day there. He hated me — and he was angry the entire time I was there — but he didn’t lie again about what couldn’t be done.
I knew I had won when I received a letter a few months after I got there. Tony Tharp was a journalist who worked for the Clarion-Ledger — the state’s largest newspaper — but he had an interest in our area since it was his hometown. He competed against us for stories, but he wrote to tell me how much he appreciated me turning his hometown paper 180 degrees from something “near the armpit of Mississippi journalism.”
It took me a long time to notice this pattern in my life, but once I finally saw it, everything was obvious. I’m not sure how to describe this part of who I am. Agent of change? Builder? Radical? Fixer? No word or phrase really captures it completely, but the word that comes closest is reformer.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out some things about myself — things which I seem to need to learn so I can keep heading in the direction I want to go. I spent weeks brooding and reading psychology. Then something clicked and I saw some patterns. As those patterns got more and more clear, I needed to talk about it — but it still feels incomplete, so this is very preliminary.
If you want to use my skills and get me excited about a job to be done, give me something that needs to be fixed. Give me a company or department or organization that’s broken down or messed up. Give me the authority to do what needs to be done — and I’ll fix what’s broken. I might break some egos along the way. I might hurt some feelings of people who want to do things “how we’ve always done it.”
But I’m at my best when I’m allowed to reform — to fix — what’s broken.
All of my life, I’ve had an instinctive feel for what was broken in the world around me. When I was younger, I was naive enough to believe I could fix everything I saw wrong. It took me a long time to realize that other people wouldn’t necessarily see things as I did.
Some people dreamed of being politicians because they longed for power and money. I grew up wanting to be president simply because I figured that’s what I needed to become in order to change all the things I saw wrong. It wasn’t the ego satisfaction I wanted. Instead, I wanted to remake the world in the ideal way that seemed possible to me.
When I look back at my history, I see this pattern over and over. When I took things over — church programs, newsrooms, whatever — I didn’t just operate them efficiently as they had been operated in the past. I walked in asking myself how I could change everything. I had no respect for the status quo. In my mind, I always started with a blank sheet of paper.
Even years after it happened, I can get excited explaining how I changed my high school newspaper. We added color. We printed bigger editions. We shook a lot of things up. And we started selling more copies than ever. After a few months, we even sold out of an entire edition, something which had never been done. I was only 17, but I was bursting with pride in what we were doing.
In my last newspaper job, I was editor and publisher for a company that didn’t really care that much about editorial content. Management at the company cared only about profits. I kept profits high, but I also radically improved the product. At the state press association convention, we won the award for most improved newspaper in the state. It was one of the four biggest awards given. When nobody in my company seemed to care, I knew it was time to leave.
I’m not sure I have a good point here — at least not one that will be interesting to other people. It’s just that I’ve realized something about myself that I should have already known.
If I have a big goal — fixing a broken company, starting something from scratch, doing something nobody thinks is possible — I get up every morning dying to do my job. I’m excited about life and I can’t wait to do something bigger and better and more profitable.
But if all I’m doing is the rote operations of something which any reasonably competent person could do, there’s no excitement for me. I feel like a cog in a corporate machine.
I haven’t been excited about the things I’m doing for a long time. Ever since I burned out in politics, I started doing things which weren’t especially interesting to me. I haven’t had a challenge and I haven’t been given the ability to start something or fix something for a long time.
That’s something I have to change right now.
I need a new challenge. I need to build a subdivision or buy a failing apartment complex and convert it to something good. I have to start something or fix something. I need a reason to care about my work again.
I should have already known this, but I just hadn’t allowed myself to consciously see it. I have strong visions of how things ought to be. I usually see directions about how to fix things before other people do. I can usually engineer a success or a turnaround if I have the resources.
I’m a fixer. I’m a reformer.
At my best, I bring change. I see what ought to be — and I make that happen.
I’m still working on understanding what to do with this new thought. Some of it involves going back to ways I used to think, but I haven’t figured all that out yet. Still, I’m excited about it.
I see how I want the world to be. I can’t change the entire world, but I can change certain parts right around me. It’s time to make some more reforms, starting with myself.
There’s a lot more to tell you — and this is very broad and general right now — but some very good things are going to come out of this if I can figure out how to implement what I see clearly in my mind.
I’ll just say I’m excited. Now I have to find partners who want to reform the world with me.